A friend and I were discussing the way we see ourselves changes with age. That reminded me of a column I wrote a couple of years ago so I thought I would share it here…
I had an appointment to get my hair cut. Most women my age know what that means. It means an uncomfortable, critical, hour or so in front of a mirror in unforgiving light. Like it or not, you see yourself as you really are.
So, in self-defense, I put on a little lipstick, put a little color on my cheeks, before I walked out the door.
At the salon, while I thumbed through a magazine, I watched the young woman in the chair nearby. She was in her early 20s, probably just out of school, and she was very pretty. She had golden skin, big blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Her makeup – dark eyelashes and lip gloss – was skillfully done.
The stylist hovered over her like a bee buzzing around a flower, a lily gilded with foils and highlights, pulling her long blonde hair through a brush as he waved the dryer in the air. She had a date, she told him. She had a new dress and she was going dancing.
I couldn’t help but notice that as they talked and laughed, she never took her eyes off her reflection. She tilted her head, studying her face, admiring her hair. She was obviously pleased with what she saw. And why not? Crow’s feet and salt-and-pepper hair were years away. She still had a lot of growing up to do.
I sat down, my hair tousled and wet, a towel pinned around my neck. The woman who does my hair knows the drill. Just hold what we’ve got, is the implied message each time I sit in her chair. Just hold what we’ve got.
I stole a glance at myself in the mirror – at my very grown-up reflection – and quickly looked away. No use dwelling on that.
And that’s when I saw her. At the station behind me an older woman sat in a wheelchair. Her short gray hair framed her face in a no-nonsense cut. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry.
Avoiding my own face, I watched hers instead. And the more I studied her, the more beautiful she became. Not painted and pretty like the girl. Not middle-aged and holding like me. She was truly beautiful.
The woman chatted with the stylist and when she smiled her face followed a map of lines that had been etched by time. By years of happiness and heartbreak. Years of hard times and good times. Years of lessons learned and small graces. Years and years of living.
I was struck by the way she gazed directly into the mirror looking straight into her own eyes. She wasn’t entertained by her reflection, like a canary playing with its image, the way the beautiful young woman had been. But she wasn’t hiding from what she saw the way I was. She met herself without flinching, without looking away. She met herself head-on.
That, I thought to myself, is what I want to be. When I grow old and I settle into myself for the rest of the ride, I want to find that kind of peace.
I want to find that woman in the mirror.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com